Teaching the literature review: A practical approach for college instructors


  • Jonathan Cisco University of Missouri




literature review, college writing, college teaching, disciplinary writing, writing center


Instructors across the disciplines require their students to write literature reviews. Although numerous sources describe the literature review process, instructors and students face difficulty when approaching the structure of a literature review. This paper presents a straightforward, efficient approach for teaching students how to write a literature review. Developed over the course of three years at a university writing center, this lesson received substantial support from students across the disciplines. This paper reflects on one group of students’ experiences while writing literature reviews in a political science course, showing that students demonstrated a sense of confidence and direction after the lesson. University professors, writing center staff, and content-discipline instructors in higher education classrooms can alleviate their students’ anxiety about literature reviews by using this lesson in their classrooms.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biography

Jonathan Cisco, University of Missouri

Jonathan Cisco is a Coordinator for the University of Missouri’s Campus Writing Program. His research uses mixed methodologies to focus on literacy in higher education.


Birkenstein, C., & Graff, G. (2008). Point of view: In teaching composition, ‘Formulaic’ is not a four-letter word. Style, 42(1), 18-21.

Bloom, B. S. (1984). The 2 sigma problem: the search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to- one tutoring. Educational Researcher, 13(6), 4-16.

Burke, K. (1973). The philosophy of literary form. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.

Feak, C. B., & Swales, John. M. (2009). Telling a research story: writing a literature review. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Fullmer, P. (2012). Assessment of tutoring laboratories in a learning assistance center. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 42(2), 67-89.

Galvan, J. L. (1999). Writing literature reviews: a guide for students of the social and behavioral sciences. Los Angeles, CA: Pyrczak.

Garrard, J. (2011). Health sciences literature review made easy: the matrix method (3rd ed.). Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. New Brunswick, N.J.: Aldine Transaction.

Graff, G., & Birkenstein, C. (2006). They say, I say. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Grogan, J. (2011). The appreciative tutor. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 42(1), 80-88.

Gruenbaum, E. (2012). Common literacy struggles with college students: Using the reciprocal teaching technique. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 42(2), 110-116.

Hart, C. (1998). Doing a literature review: releasing the social science research imagination. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

Machi, L. A., & McEvoy, B. T. (2009). The literature review: six steps to success. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.

Mason, J. (2002). Qualitative researching (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

Melles, G. (2005). Familiarizing postgraduate ESL students with the literature review in a WAC/EAP engineering classroom. Across the Disciplines: A Journal of Language, Learning, and Academic Writing, 2, 14.

Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. John Wiley & Sons.

Pan, M. L. (2008). Preparing literature reviews: qualitative and quantitative approaches (3rd ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrczak.

Poe, R. E. (1990). A strategy for improving literature reviews in psychology courses. Teaching of Psychology, 17, 54-55.

Reinheimer, D., & McKenzie, K. (2011). The impact of tutoring on the academic success of undeclared students. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 41(2), 22-36.

Ridley, D. (2008). The literature review: a step-by-step guide for students. London: Sage.

Riley, P. (1997). Literature reviews: obtaining perspective. Classroom Teachers and Classroom Research, 4, 49-54.

Rocco, T S., & Hatcher, T. (2011). The handbook of scholarly writing and publishing. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Seidman, I. (2006). Interviewing as qualitative research: a guide for researchers in education and the social sciences (3rd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Schon, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Shanahan, T. & Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40–60.

Strauss, A. L., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: grounded theory procedures and research. Newbury Park, California: Sage.

Wood, D., & Wood, H. (1996). Vygotsky, tutoring and learning. Oxford Review of Education, 22(1), 5-16.

Zorn, T., & Campbell, N. (2006). Improving the writing of literature review through a literature integration exercise. Business Communication Quarterly, 69(2), 172-183.




How to Cite

Cisco, Jonathan. 2014. “Teaching the Literature Review: A Practical Approach for College Instructors”. Teaching and Learning Inquiry 2 (2):41-57. https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.2.2.41.